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Employee who faked cancer at work ordered to pay back £1

A former secretary who defrauded her employer and colleagues out of tens of thousands of pounds by lying about having cancer has been ordered to pay back just £1. 

Kelsey Whitehead was told to return the nominal sum by a judge at Lincoln Crown Court after a confiscation hearing determined she had no assets. She had already been given a 12-month suspended sentence after admitting two counts of fraud. 

The court heard that Whitehead told her boss at Carbon Electric that she had stage four metastatic osteosarcoma – a type of bone cancer. She also lied to her wife and friends.

The Hull-based electrical business lent her £5,000 to fund private medical treatment and handed her almost £10,000 in sick pay. Her co-workers also donated £1,400 to charity in her name.

The secretary claimed the NHS had refused to cover her treatment and would only provide palliative care, forcing her to fund the necessary treatment privately. Meanwhile, Whitehead’s wife, Sophie, took her to what she thought were weekly hospital appointments, only for the 38-year-old to sit in the waiting room for two hours before leaving. Sophie eventually quit her job, believing her partner was in her final days. 

The deceit only came to light when Whitehead overdosed and was admitted to hospital in May 2016.

According to BBC News, Phil Howes, who was prosecuting the case, said that when Sophie informed medical staff that Whitehead had cancer, "they did the checks and there was no record of it”. He added: “This was an elaborate hoax to get money that she wasn't entitled to.” 

Howes said Whitehead depicted cancer-like symptoms she had researched on the internet, inserted a drip into her chest, forced herself to vomit at work, used make-up to appear as if she was struggling to sleep, shaved off her hair and purchased medication online. 

Meanwhile, The Sun reported that Lizzie Hutton, one of the directors at Carbon Electric, said the company could not begin to describe how betrayed and disappointed it felt. “We cannot understand why [Whitehead] would do this to us, to her friends and to Sophie,” Hutton said outside the court.

During her earlier sentencing hearing, Whitehead's lawyer claimed her client had a history of lying stemming from childhood abuse.

Juliet Carp, employment partner at Kingsley Napley, told People Management that, while this case was an extreme example, dishonesty at work was not unusual. “Good housekeeping and common sense can substantially reduce risk. Particular attention should be given to common problem areas such as hiring, absence, entertainment and when employees handle money,” she said. 

Carp also suggested that employers carefully check candidates’ employment history, qualifications and reasons for time out to avoid similar situations to those experienced by Carbon Electric. She said: “Insist on proper medical confirmation of the reasons for sickness absence and make sure that rigorous expense processes are in place. It is much easier to stop things before the problem escalates than to try to recover cash from an individual who has already disposed of it.”

Although Whitehead's case is extreme, there have been other incidences of workers fibbing to employers about cancer. In 2011, a man confessed he had lied about suffering from testicular cancer, defrauding his employer of more than £13,000 in the process. 

In 2013, a teacher was banned from the profession and given a six-month suspended sentence after lying about a younger relative having cancer to get paid time off from her primary school job in Wales. The deceit cost the school more than £100,000. 

Added: 26-06-2017

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